Sat, 12 Feb 2000

End of Camdessus era at IMF

By Martin Halusa

WASHINGTON (DPA): When Michel Camdessus leaves the position of Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) next Monday, at least one circumstance is likely to be of comfort to him in spite of all the criticism he has experienced. "My English was even worse then than its is now", he says looking back at the start of his period of office 13 years ago.

However, there is another judgment in which the Frenchman with fluency in Spanish should find comfort. The IMF has risen under his aegis to become a mighty financial institution that has not allowed the global economy to slide into chaos despite the crises of the past years. The tug-of-war over a successor shows that the filling of this top position is a matter of highest priority.

Ironically, the situation is similar to the one in 1987 when Camdessus was appointed. Then too, an exchange of blows took place between Germany and France. The way became free for the then head of the Bank of France (BoF) after months of wrangling because Germany was unable to present a suitable candidate, and the then Dutch finance minister Onne Ruding withdrew his candidature at the last minute.

Camdessus went on to be confirmed unopposed in office twice, although as a Socialist he was always somewhat suspicious to the United States. The United States accused him over and over of being too generous and considerate.

Michel Camdessus, a man of reputed charm and resoluteness, will go down in history as the man who opened up the sealed, mysterious world of the IMF. There is hardly a document, speech or piece of data that is not being published on the IMF website nowadays. "I have preached the golden rule of transparency since the crisis in Mexico. We are tying to make this institution as accessible as possible", he said in drawing the balance. However, further steps are necessary, he added.

Nevertheless, the image of the heartless advocate of "unadulterated Capitalism" has hardly faded. People are still able to claim that the IMF kills babies, without raising a hue and cry, Camdessus summarized. The IMF is still seen as the most- hated institution in many parts of the world and yet, still, billions in aid keep trickling through without noticeable improvement in the situation -- as in the case of Russia.

The IMF understands itself not only as a firefighter in time of crisis. It is in particular an institution of long-term perspectives. One such goal is that world poverty has to be halved by the year 2015. Should this ever be achieved, it would also be attributable to Camdessus, who engaged himself in debt crisis management at an early stage.

Solutions to the problems in Mexico, Asia, Russia and Brazil also bear Camdessus' signature. He read former Indonesian president Soeharto the riot act in Jakarta, and in Moscow he pressed Boris Yeltsin to carry out reforms -- sometimes with more, sometimes with less success.

Increased aid for Russia is in the spotlight of criticism. Although the country has not fulfilled any of the so far five programs, the IMF has granted it loans over and over again. For this reason, the case of Russia is one of the darkest chapters in the Fund's history.

"I regret having shared with the industrial world the illusion that the transition to the market economy would take place quickly", Camdessus confesses. He said the IMF is frustrated over Russia because the country did not apply any of the reform proposals from the Fund.

The outgoing IMF managing director draws a positive balance despite all of the criticism. "I am happy to be leaving the IMF while the global economy is surpassing all predictions. This has to do with the efforts of the IMF and I am proud of that", he says. The 66-year-old father of six makes his last official public appearance at a United Nations meeting in Bangkok Sunday.